Best Free Art Apps

Growing up, we didn’t have a lot of brand-name items in the house. We drank cola, not Coke or Pepsi. We blew our noses on facial tissues (or paper towels), not Kleenex. When we got sick, we took cold medicine, not NyQuil.

So when I became interested in screenwriting in high school and asked my parents for Final Draft, the industry-standard screenwriting app, I wasn’t surprised to learn they weren’t going to buy it for me. The cost of Final Draft at the time was several hundred dollars. Suffice it to say, I learned script formatting the hard way.

Then I discovered someone on the internet had created templates for Microsoft Word to make formatting easier. I downloaded the free templates and was finally able to concentrate not on the science of screenwriting—the formatting—but on the art of it.

There are many robust, open-source computer applications for the arts. Open-source software is computer software that is free to use, distribute, study, and alter for any purpose. One of the most famous examples is Netscape Communicator from back in the ’90s, which eventually became Mozilla Firefox, an open-source web browser you might be using right now.

A 2008 report by the Standish Group estimated that open-source software saves consumers about $60 billion per year, conversely resulting in a $60 billion annual loss for software companies, so regardless of your perspective, the open-source concept has had a huge impact on the industry.

Whether you’re into screenwriting, audio production, music composition and notation, graphic design, video editing, or animation, these free art apps can help you realize your vision.


Compare to the active ingredients in Final Draft ($249.99)

Originally written by Osku Salerma in 2003 and sold as a commercial program by a company he founded, Trelby didn’t sell well enough for him to continue working on it, so it became open-source software in 2006 and was later improved by Anil Gulecha beginning in 2011.

Trelby has most of the same features you’ll find in Final Draft, including auto-completion of character names and locations, generating useful script reports, and exporting to a variety of formats including PDF and XML (Final Draft). The software is also capable of importing screenplays from many different screenwriting apps, including Final Draft.


Compare to the active ingredients in Pro Tools ($599)

According to Audacity’s website:

Free software is not just free of cost (like “free beer”). It is free as in freedom (like “free speech”). Free software gives you the freedom to use a program, study how it works, improve it and share it with others.

In this spirit of freedom, Audacity has been translated into over fifty languages, making it globally accessible.

Audacity is a digital audio workstation (DAW), which allows users to record and edit audio with a ton of features including a wide range of effects and editing capabilities. With this app, you can do everything from recording a podcast to converting old analog tapes and records into digital formats to producing an elaborate EDM track. You can even create your own effects!


Compare to the active ingredients in Sibelius ($599)

Musescore is a powerful music notation application that allows you to create, play, and print professional-quality sheet music. You can use a MIDI keyboard to streamline the process, and you can transfer your scores to and from a variety of other programs and formats. With templates for everything from solo piano to full orchestra, this is one of the coolest free art apps available.

The Musescore community is also awesome. Beyond translating the software into 64 languages, members of the community upload their own sheet music, which you can search, download, and even edit within Musescore. They’ve gone beyond open-source software, creating a massive database of user-generated content that is always being expanded upon and updated.


Compare to the active ingredients in Photoshop ($20/month subscription)

The brand name Photoshop has become so ubiquitous that it’s now a verb in the dictionary: to “Photoshop” an image means to digitally alter it, especially in a way that distorts reality. But image-editing software has many other uses, and Photoshop is not your only option.

GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) was created in 1996 by Spencer Kimball and Peter Mattis, two students at UC Berkeley. Over the years, it has been refined and upgraded by users. The program has the same types of sophisticated tools you’ll find in Photoshop, allowing graphic designers, photographers, and illustrators to produce high-quality work in a variety of formats.


Compare to the active ingredients in Final Cut Pro ($299.99)

Conceived by software developer Jonathan Thomas in 2008, OpenShot began with three simple criteria: it had to be easy to use, powerful, and stable. Thomas faced many challenges at first, but once he invited the video editing community to help him, everything finally came together. And that’s what’s so great about open-source software: users have a stake in improving it.

OpenShot is a video editing app with a clean user interface and a plethora of features, including unlimited tracks, video effects, audio waveforms, a title editor, slow motion and time effects, and 3D animations. It has been translated into over 70 languages.


Compare to the active ingredients in Harmony ($375)

In 2005, Pascal Naidon discovered an open-source software program called Pencil Planner, a simple animation program by Patrick Corrieri. Naidon realized it could be evolved into a more complex program for traditional 2D animation. Over the next several years, and with the help of a few other programmers, the application grew and developed into Pencil2D.

As a child, Pascal Naidon, like many children, created animated flipbooks by drawing pictures on the pages of a notebook and then flipping through them. Pencil2D is like a digital version of that childhood pastime with many useful features, including the ability to export animations into several formats. This amazing app helps you create full-color animations with sound.


These free art apps make it easy—and affordable—to use some of the best tools available for the creation of a wide variety of art forms. And if you want to experiment with screenwriting, audio production, music composition and notation, graphic design, video editing, or animation, these apps allow you to get your feet wet without diving headfirst into an expensive purchase.

Better yet, open-source software makes these tools accessible to people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford the “name brand” versions. They’re especially great for kids and students who want to learn the tools of various trades. And because they’ve been translated into many different languages and are available for free, they help foster a global diversity of voices in the arts.

So, what are you waiting for? Download one of these great apps today and get creating!

The Secret Space of Dreams: Jerry Garcia’s Art

Jerry Garcia’s art was mostly of the musical variety. He was a founding member of the Grateful Dead, his longest-running project from 1965 to 1995. He was also an accomplished banjo player in the bluegrass group Old and in the Way and a longtime friend of mandolinist David Grisman, with whom he recorded several albums later in his life, not to mention his many side projects, including playing pedal steel guitar on “Teach Your Children” by Crosby, Stills and Nash.

Less famously, Garcia was also a visual artist who produced more than 1,000 pieces, mostly after his brush with death in the form of a diabetic coma in 1987.

In her foreword to the book Jerry on Jerry: The Unpublished Jerry Garcia Interviews, his daughter Trixie recalls:

In the difficult years following the coma, my dad was thrown into recovery mode. He had to relearn the guitar and when he or his fingers needed a break, he would draw. His skill in drawing from time spent as an art student helped him regain coordination and precision. Art became a new high for him.

Trixie describes Garcia’s post-coma period:

An unending stream of art supplies of increasing complexity funneled into the house, mostly in the form of markers, pocket sketchbooks, and the occasional airbrush set. He would experiment with each new wave of supplies, and he was a talented visual artist — exploring materials, textures, techniques, and characters.

The Artist
The artist at work with a Christmas ornament placed on his head by his daughter.

Garcia fell in love with art in the third grade with some help from his teacher Miss Simon, who, in Jerry’s words, was “young and pretty and she always wore flowery peasant dresses. She must have been a bohemian at the time.” According to Garcia: “She was the one who encouraged me to do the creative stuff. She liked my drawings, and she really encouraged me along those lines.” Around that time, Garcia also discovered EC Comics, inspiring a lifelong appreciation of horror.

In the summer of 1957, a 15-year-old Jerry Garcia received his first electric guitar, a Danelectro, and that same summer he smoked his first joint, two events that would shape his life’s trajectory. It was also the summer in which he began attending classes at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute), falling in with the Beat generation and establishing his identity as an artist. But music soon eclipsed the visual arts. In Garcia’s words: “When I finally got into the guitar and all that stuff, all my art trip just . . . it went away. Everything went away.”

According to Roberta Weir in her foreword to the book J. Garcia: Paintings, Drawings, and Sketches, Jerry once said:

A line on paper is like a note in the air. It’s out there. And once it’s out there, there’s no taking it back.

Weir reflects:

I believe this comment conveys the essence of Jerry’s drawings and paintings. His images are not so much faithful renderings as they are animated strokes that dance across paper collecting into unselfconscious improvisations.

Roberta Weir, an artist herself who runs the Garcia Weir Gallery, is the foremost authority on Jerry Garcia’s art. According to Weir:

Jerry’s mind was a virtual kaleidoscope where forms and ideas overlapped with impunity. He was supremely serendipitous, he made no apologies for his technique, and he had an unerring instinct for the symbolic power of simple images. He kept his pens and sketchbooks with him at all times, scribbling and sketching constantly.

Garcia told Roberta Weir:

Art was probably my most civilized aspiration. But music seduced me.

From that point on, Weir recalls, “art became a private activity — and one at which he was gifted, productive, and largely unknown.”

Garcia also told Weir:

I don’t want to work at this. I’m just doing it totally for my own amusement and pleasure. I don’t need any more fame.

Jerry Garcia’s paintings and sketches reflect his unique and colorful vision of the world, as well as his warmth and sense of humor. So throw on your favorite Dead bootleg, make yourself easy, and take a long, strange trip with me through the world of Jerry Garcia’s art.


California Mission
Suggested musical pairing: “Mission in the Rain” by the Jerry Garcia Band (1976)

Jerry Garcia was a child of San Francisco. Born in the Excelsior District on August 1, 1942, he came of age among the beatniks in the city by the bay. Garcia recalls, “For me, San Francisco was a magic place.” Though the Grateful Dead officially formed in Menlo Park, first as Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions and then as the Warlocks, the band has long been associated with San Francisco and the psychedelic scene in the 1960s.


Flamenco Dancer
Suggested musical pairing: “Spanish Jam” by the Grateful Dead (1974)

Jerry Garcia’s ancestors on his father’s side were from Spain, but Garcia claims he never had a strong sense of his Spanish ethnicity. He explains his relationship to his Spanish family, who lived a life different from his own:

Now, for me, the hit that I got from my Spanish relatives — my Spanish relatives were always very, very straight. To give you an inclination, [they] were the kind of people that when my mother died, they wouldn’t let my mother be buried next to my father because she’d remarried after he died. That’s an indication of how straight they are.


Race Record Dream
Suggested musical pairing: “Oh, Babe, It Ain’t No Lie” by the Grateful Dead (1980), a cover of the original 1958 version by Elizabeth Cotten

Jerry Garcia was heavily influenced by Black musicians. When discussing different versions of the song “Shake, Rattle and Roll” (the original by Big Joe Turner and a cover by Bill Haley and His Comets), Garcia says:

I started to be conscious, “Oh, I see, there’s the black version of stuff that’s good and then there’s the lame white version of stuff sometimes.

He goes on to say that rhythm and blues “was much more interesting. And I mean, that’s all I listened to when I — into that teenage space. For me, that was heaven, you know?”


Shaman Artist
Suggested musical pairing: “Dark Star” by the Grateful Dead (1969)

In 1965 Jerry Garcia tried LSD for the first time. In his words:

I had a perfectly wonderful time, and it was that soft psychedelia, you know, the first thing, the first stuff. It was very soft and sweet and great fun. It wasn’t particularly miraculous. It was just that thing of solving all earthly problems.

The Grateful Dead would go on to perform for several of Ken Kesey’s Acid Tests.


Suggested musical pairing: the theme song from the 1980s reboot of The Twilight Zone, which the Grateful Dead recorded in 1985

Jerry Garcia enjoyed the horror genre, from his days as a “sickly kid” reading EC comic books in bed to his later love of Stephen King (Garcia did an audiobook performance of “My Pretty Pony” from King’s short story collection Nightmares and Dreamscapes). This affinity for horror would manifest itself in his band name, the Grateful Dead, as well as their original name, the Warlocks.


Not For Kids Only
Suggested musical pairing: “Jenny Jenkins” by Jerry Garcia and David Grisman (1993)

In 1993 Jerry Garcia and longtime collaborator David Grisman released an album of traditional children’s songs called Not For Kids Only, and they used Jerry Garcia’s art as the album cover. Jerry never lost his sense of childhood wonder. As his daughter Trixie recalls:

Beyond his love of music, Jerry’s world was loaded with cosmic jokes, cartoon characters, campy horror flicks, weird coincidences and anything that seemed magical to him.


You can see more of Jerry Garcia’s art in the books Jerry on Jerry: The Unpublished Jerry Garcia Interviews and J. Garcia: Paintings, Drawings, and Sketches. You can also view several pieces online at the Garcia Weir Gallery and in this Rolling Stone article.

Keep on truckin’!